Posts Tagged ‘Delany’

Samuel R. Delany, Tales of Nevèrÿon (1979, 1988)

19 October 2008

The first volume of Delany’s Return to Nevèrÿon series, containing five stories and a preface and appendix situating this in relation to the supposed Kolhar manuscript, an incredibly early text translated into several languages. Here we play the literary game of situating your utopia in the past – the same way that Lord of the Rings can be hidden between ice ages. Nevèrÿon is is the line of no-places that include Erewhon (ahem, nohwere?), Nowhere and presumably Russ’s Whileaway.

What strikes me on rereading is how little happens until the second half of the volume – many of the stories are taken up with conversations and tales told by one character to another. And throughout there is the child’s garden of semiotics – I wish I’d reread “The Tale of Old Venn” before writing a piece on psychoanalysis and fantasy as it plays with penis envy and desiring the phallus; meanwhile we get a wonderful reversal of chapter two of Genesis, with the Fall the fault of ‘man, whose genitals are no left exposed and unprotected unlike woman’s.

I thought that initially only “The Tale of Gorgik” – a boy who becomes a slave but is rescued – would be relevant, but all the stories here are from 1976-1978, and so I can discuss them. It’s just as well because Gorgik’s sexuality is only glancingly dealt with in the first story – he sees someone wearing a collar, and is fascinated by it, later in the story he is the sexual toy of a woman (this sex toy thing is something Delany repeatedly returns to). In “The Tale of Small Sarg” there is the assumption that male slaves are fair game for female slave owners, and Gorgik assures him the same will hold true in their case. It is not until “The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers” that we see Gorgik and Sarg as slave liberators, and become more aware of a sexual linkage dependent on the voluntary wearing of the collar. This is consensual SM, but the seventies, still coy. Note also that we have been taught that “gorgi” is a child’s word for genitalia, which inevitably recolours our picture of Gorgik.

There is also the sense that the volume is a metafantasy – not just in the apparatus which in subsequent volumes mixes real and false authors, but in the focus on the shift in culture from preliterate to literate, from barter to token economies, and a knowing awareness of the power of words to enslave. It’s as if the unexamined assumptions of fantasy mechanics become the engine for the (limited) mechanics of the plot.

Further Reading

Danylyshen, Darren. “Where Theory Meets Science Fiction: The Conjoining of Traditional Fantasy with Theoretical Structures in Samuel R. Delany’s Neveryon Series, Or: The Tale of the Iron Ring.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 12.2 (2001): 157-167.

Erisman, W.E. “Inverting the Ideal World, Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Contemporary Utopian Science-Fiction.” Extrapolation 36.4 (1995): 333-44.

Fitting, Peter. “So We All Became Mothers – New Roles For Men in Recent Utopian Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 12.2 (1985): 156-183.

James, Ken. “Subverted Equations: G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form and Samuel R. Delany’s Analytics of Attention.” Ash of Stars: On the Writings of Samuel R. Delany. Ed. James Sallis. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. 189-214.

Kelso, Sylvia. “Across Never: Postmodern Theory and Narrative Praxis in Samuel Delany’s Nevèryon Cycle.” Science Fiction Studies 24.2 (1997): 289-301.

Spencer, Kathleen L. “Neveryon Deconstructed: Samuel R. Delany’s Tales of Neveryon and ‘The Modular Calculus’.” Ash of Stars: On the Writings of Samuel R. Delany. Ed. James Sallis. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. 127-161.